A Reflection on the Hutto Service

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I had lump in my throat as our bus turned a corner and headed down a narrow rural road. I knew we had to be close, and it hit me where we were going.

We were in a caravan of 19 buses making the 40-minute journey from the Austin Convention Center to a world away where 500 migrant women are imprisoned for crossing the border.

More than a thousand Episcopalians came to the detention center to pray, chant, sing and witness to this evil perpetrated by our government.

The buses arrived at a baseball field a few hundred yards from what is officially called the “T. Don Hutto Residential Center” – a detention center surrounded by tall chain-linked fences and barbed wire. It was built as a medium-security prison, owned by a private corporation, and a privately-owned prison it still is.

As we got off the buses, the heat was oppressive, the grass wet with Texas dew.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was there and so was House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings. They stood on a platform and spoke, and we sang and prayed. We turned to face the detention center, and it still felt far away.

And then I saw a small woman walking off toward the detention center. Others soon followed. I looked again and realized she was Sheila Andrus, wife of Marc Andrus, the bishop of the Diocese of California. More began to follow across a field and onto a road heading to the detention center. I followed.

A police car soon appeared, telling us to stay to the side of the road and off and away from the railroad tracks. We got closer to the detention center and another officer told us to get no closer. We complied.

We stood on a lawn, a few feet off the road. We sang, we prayed, we chanted in Spanish. Some knelt on the ground, others waved or held their hands up in blessing.

And then we could see women inside waving towels up and down through the slit windows. My eyes welled with tears. I did not want to leave. But soon we were back on the buses, heading back to Austin.

Later in the day we learned that the organizers got a call from one of the women inside. She said the incarcerated women were glued to the windows, crying, until the last bus left. She said the women inside knew we were there, and they knew they are not alone.

This day will live with me long after I have forgotten the resolutions, the debates, the committee meetings, and all the rest at General Convention.

The Rev. James Richardson is an alternate deputy from Diocese of Northern California, interim dean of Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, and a former political writer with The Sacramento Bee.

photo credit: Kathleen Moore